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Neo-noir is a revival of the genre of film noir. The term film noir was popularized in 1955 by French critics Raymond Borde and Étienne Chaumeton. [1] It was applied to crime films of the 1940s and 1950s, mostly produced in the United States, which adopted a 1920s/1930s Art Deco visual environment. The English translation is dark movie, indicating something sinister and shadowy, but also expressing a cinematographic style. The film noir genre includes stylish Hollywood crime dramas, often with a twisted dark wit. Neo-noir has a similar style but with updated themes, content, style, visual elements and media.



Neo-noir is a contraction of the phrase new film noir , using the Greek prefix for the word new, neo. Noir is a French word that, when used in isolation in discussing film, is shorthand for 'film noir'. As a neologism, neo-noir is defined by Mark Conard as "any film coming after the classic noir period that contains noir themes and noir sensibility". [2] Another definition describes it as later noir that often synthesizes diverse genres while foregrounding the scaffolding of film noir. [3]


"Film noir" was coined by critic Nino Frank in 1946, and popularized by French critics Raymond Borde and Etienne Chaumeton in 1955. [1] The term revived in general use beginning in the 1980s, with a revival of the style.

The classic film noir era is usually dated from the early 1940s to the late 1950s. The films were often adaptations of American crime novels, which were also described as "hardboiled". Some authors resisted these terms. For example, James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1934) and Double Indemnity (1944), is considered to be one of the defining authors of hard-boiled fiction. Both novels were adapted as crime films, the former more than once. Cain is quoted as saying, "I belong to no school, hard-boiled or otherwise, and I believe these so-called schools exist mainly in the imagination of critics, and have little correspondence in reality anywhere else." [4]


Neo-noir film directors refer to 'classic noir' in the use of Dutch angles, interplay of light and shadows, unbalanced framing; blurring of the lines between good and bad and right and wrong, and thematic motifs including revenge, paranoia, and alienation.

Typically American crime dramas or psychological thrillers, films noir [a] had common themes and plot devices, and many distinctive visual elements. Characters were often conflicted antiheroes, trapped in a difficult situation and making choices out of desperation or nihilistic moral systems. Visual elements included low-key lighting, striking use of light and shadow, and unusual camera placement. Sound effects helped create the noir mood of paranoia and nostalgia. [5]

Few major films in the classic film noir genre have been made since the early 1960s. These films usually incorporated both thematic and visual elements reminiscent of film noir. Both classic and neo-noir films are often produced as independent features.

After 1970 film critics took note of "neo-noir" films as a separate genre. Noir and post-noir terminology (such as "hard-boiled", "neo-classic" and the like) are often rejected by both critics and practitioners.

Robert Arnett stated, "Neo-noir has become so amorphous as a genre/movement, any film featuring a detective or crime qualifies." [6] Screenwriter and director Larry Gross identifies Alphaville , alongside John Boorman’s Point Blank (1967) and Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye (1973), based on Raymond Chandler's 1953 novel, as neo-noir films. Gross believes that they deviate from classic noir in having more of a sociological than a psychological focus. [7] Neo noir features characters who commit violent crimes, but without the motivations and narrative patterns found in film noir. [3]

Neo noir assumed global character and impact when filmmakers began drawing elements from films in the global market. For instance, Quentin Tarantino's works have been influenced by Ringo Lam's City on Fire . [8] This was particularly the case for the noir-inflected Reservoir Dogs , which was instrumental in establishing Tarantino in October 1992. [9]

See also


  1. ^ In the French from which the term derives, the plural is films noirs. Standard English usage is "films noir", as in "courts martial", "attorneys general" and so on, but "film noirs" is listed in the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary in first order of preference. [10]

Related Research Articles

Film noir Film style

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and motivations. The 1940s and 1950s are generally regarded as the "classic period" of American film noir. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.

Film genre Classification of films based on similarities in narrative elements

A film genre is a stylistic or thematic category for motion pictures based on similarities either in the narrative elements, aesthetic approach, or the emotional response to the film.

Crime fiction Genre of fiction focusing on crime

Crime fiction, detective story, murder mystery, mystery novel, and police novel are terms used to describe narratives that centre on criminal acts and especially on the investigation, either by an amateur or a professional detective, of a serious crime, generally a murder. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as historical fiction or science fiction, but the boundaries are indistinct. Crime fiction has multiple subgenres, including detective fiction, courtroom drama, hard-boiled fiction, and legal thrillers. Most crime drama focuses on crime investigation and does not feature the courtroom. Suspense and mystery are key elements that are nearly ubiquitous to the genre.

Mystery film Sub-genre of crime film

A mystery film is a genre of film that revolves around the solution of a problem or a crime. It focuses on the efforts of the detective, private investigator or amateur sleuth to solve the mysterious circumstances of an issue by means of clues, investigation, and clever deduction.

Ross Macdonald American writer

Ross Macdonald is the main pseudonym that was used by the American-Canadian writer of crime fiction Kenneth Millar. He is best known for his series of hardboiled novels set in Southern California and featuring private detective Lew Archer. Since the 1970s, Macdonald's works have received attention in academic circles for their psychological depth, sense of place, use of language, sophisticated imagery and integration of philosophy into genre fiction.

Hardboiled Literary genre

Hardboiled fiction is a literary genre that shares some of its characters and settings with crime fiction. The genre's typical protagonist is a detective who battles the violence of organized crime that flourished during Prohibition (1920–1933) and its aftermath, while dealing with a legal system that has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself. Rendered cynical by this cycle of violence, the detectives of hardboiled fiction are often antiheroes. Notable hardboiled detectives include Philip Marlowe, Mike Hammer, Sam Spade, Lew Archer, Slam Bradley, and The Continental Op.

Noir fiction

Noir fiction is a subgenre of crime fiction. In this subgenre, right and wrong are not clearly defined, while the protagonists are seriously and often tragically flawed.

<i>The Dark Corner</i> 1946 film by Henry Hathaway

The Dark Corner is a 1946 American crime film noir directed by Henry Hathaway and starring Lucille Ball, Clifton Webb, William Bendix and Mark Stevens. The film was not a commercial success but has since been described as a "Grade A example of film noir."

<i>Cry of the City</i> 1948 film by Robert Siodmak

Cry of the City is a 1948 American film noir directed by Robert Siodmak based on the novel by Henry Edward Helseth, The Chair for Martin Rome. The screenwriter Ben Hecht worked on the film's script, but is not credited. The film was partly shot on location in New York City.

Pulp noir is a subgenre influenced by various "noir" genres, as well as pulp fiction genres; particularly the hard-boiled genres which help give rise to film noir. Pulp noir is marked by its use of classic noir techniques, but with urban influences. Various media include film, illustrations, photographs and videogames.

<i>The Sound of Fury</i> (film) 1950 film by Cy Endfield

The Sound of Fury is a 1950 American crime film noir directed by Cy Endfield, starring Frank Lovejoy, Kathleen Ryan, Richard Carlson, and Lloyd Bridges. The film is based on the 1947 novel The Condemned by Jo Pagano, who also wrote the screenplay.

Tartan Noir is a form of crime fiction particular to Scotland and Scottish writers. It has its roots in Scottish literature but borrows elements from elsewhere, including from the work of American crime writers of the second half of the twentieth century, especially of the hard-boiled genre, and of European authors.

Vincent Calvino is a fictional Bangkok-based private eye created by Christopher G. Moore in the Vincent Calvino Private Eye series. Vincent Calvino first appeared in 1992 in Spirit House, the first novel in the series. His latest appearance is in Jumpers, the 16th novel in the series published in October 2016. "Hewn from the hard-boiled Dashiell Hammett/Raymond Chandler model, Calvino is a tough, somewhat tarnished hero with a heart of gold."

Tech noir

Tech-noir is a hybrid genre of fiction, particularly film, combining film noir and science fiction, epitomized by Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) and James Cameron's The Terminator (1984). The tech-noir presents "technology as a destructive and dystopian force that threatens every aspect of our reality."

A romantic thriller or a romance thriller is a narrative that involves elements of the romance and thriller genres.

<i>They Gave Him a Gun</i> 1937 film by W. S. Van Dyke

They Gave Him a Gun is a 1937 American crime drama film directed by W. S. Van Dyke and starring Spencer Tracy, Gladys George, and Franchot Tone. The picture bears a resemblance to later films noir in its dark theme regarding the struggles and failures of a man trying to take a criminal shortcut to the American dream. The screenplay was written by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum, and Maurice Rapf, based on the 1936 book of the same name by William J. Cowen. On March 20, 1937, director W.S. Van Dyke "announced Henry Mahan was cast in "They Gave Him A Gun", joining Sam Levene and Teddy Hart, the three swell comedians in the film version of Three Men on a Horse", but none of these actors appear in the final cut.

<i>Woman in Hiding</i> 1950 film by Michael Gordon

Woman in Hiding is a 1950 American film noir crime film directed by Michael Gordon and starring Ida Lupino, Stephen McNally and Howard Duff.

A list of reference works on the film noir genre of film. See Bibliography of film by genre for other genres.

Katsuhiko Haida American actor (1911-1982)

Katsuhiko Haida was a Japanese film actor and music composer. He played an important role in the 1951 Tokyo File 212. He has also appeared in The Burning Sky, and Escapade From Japan. His brother is Yukihiko Haida, and they formed the Nihon Ukulele Association together.


  1. 1 2 Borde, Raymond; Chaumeton, Etienne (2002). A panorama of American film noir (1941-1953). San Francisco: City Lights Books. ISBN   978-0872864122.
  2. Mark Conard. The Philosophy of Neo-noir. The Univ of Kentucky Press, 2007, p2.
  3. 1 2 Pettey, Homer B. (2014). International Noir. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 62. ISBN   9780748691104.
  4. O'Brien, Geoffrey (1981). Hardboiled America – The Lurid Years of Paperbacks. New York; Cincinnati: Van Nostrand Reinhold. pp.  71–72. ISBN   0-442-23140-7.
  5. Bould, Mark; Glitre, Kathrina; Tuck, Greg (2009). Neo-Noir. London: Wallflower Press. pp.  44. ISBN   9781906660178.
  6. Arnett, Robert (Fall 2006). "Eighties Noir: The Dissenting Voice in Reagan's America". Journal of Popular Film and Television . 34 (3): 123–129.
  7. "Where to begin with neo-noir". British Film Institute. Retrieved 2017-08-17.
  8. Grant, Barry Keith (2003). Film Genre Reader III. Austin: University of Texas Press. pp.  525. ISBN   0292701845.
  9. Verevis, Constantine (2006). Film Remakes . Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp.  173. ISBN   0748621865.
  10. "film noir". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online . Retrieved 2009-02-10. Inflected Form(s): plural film noirs \-'nwär(z)\ or films noir or films noirs \-'nwär\